His hands tremble and his cheeks flow under the mask. If, on January 13, 2022, Joanna accepts to detail her first nine years as a Merchant Navy officer, it would be to “restore a semblance of truth” and denounce “the system of guilt and discrimination against women, which had hitherto been generally accepted.” The 32-year-old Finistere’s story, like that of three other employees of shipowner Jenavier, who were victims of sexual violence from 2013 to 2019, appeared in an article published by Mediapart in October 2021.
With the support of the Association Against Violence Against Women (AVFT), which was a reporter in this case, Joanna and the others did not want to appear. Three months later, Finistere no longer wanted to shut up. The responses provided by the management of France’s largest research vessel owner, which declared that it was “deeply shaken” by the issue and allegations that it had instituted new warning and awareness measures, only added to his bitterness.
“It is better to deny our femininity”
Joanna is testifying anonymously, as she is looking for a new job today. At the end of October 2021, she was notified of her dismissal for unsuitability for any position in the company. “Following an accident at work related to this act of harassment. But I hope to stay in the Merchant Navy. Because I love the sea, I love my job and I want to honor my ambitions when I entered the Ecole Nationale Hôte d’Auto Maritime de Havre in 2008.”
It all began in 2013, when for a month the young graduate set out on board the ship as a lieutenant, on the Genavir boat. A first job, on a one-month fixed-term contract, for Joanna, proud to follow her path. “I wasn’t expecting to run into so much sexism. However, he got carried away from school in the middle. I was greatly struck by the abuse and the sale of pilots, for example (where first-year students are placed symbolically for a price, and the girls obviously leave for Much higher cost). We were only 12 girls out of 120 in my class. Coming to career, we were clearly told that in order not to have problems, it was better to deny our femininity. “
‘I was young, weak, and not even set’
This evening in March 2013, the chief engineer (“the second highest hierarchical position on a ship,” Joanna asserts), returned to his cabin in the middle of the night. It’s 2 a.m. “I woke up and put his hand on my thigh. I was terrified and panicked. I ran away and he chased me down the corridor until I lost him.” The only procedure in place was to report it to the commander. “I was young, weak, and not even hired. I simply wouldn’t be able to.”
So Joanna is silent. She only talks about it with those close to her. And he leaves for other trips. In 2015, she was subjected to comments “on her body, on her buttocks”, from the same officer. “The more time passes, the more I look, and withdraw into myself.” In 2017, I learned that other sailors were victims of the same officer. I felt guilty for my silence. I couldn’t hold back any more. With a colleague, we advised the second captain, who was to return to the armament commander. We were told that disciplinary measures would follow.”
“The orderly silence of the system”
But seven months later, the girl came back with the same guy. “It feels awful. An insult.” If Joanna’s admonition was helpful, “It is to take discriminatory measures incrementally against me, as you analyze them today. In order not to put us face to face, you have pushed me aside, by my compulsion by smaller boats, far from mainland France.”
In December 2019, Joanna and two other officers contacted the hierarchy again. This time it was about denouncing the conduct of the leader. I sailed with him once in 2017. He showed me a picture of me in a swimsuit in the boat’s pool, which he took without my knowledge. For her, always the same employer mechanism: “Apart from the front letters, there are few actions. If the AVFT does not intervene, as of summer 2020, we will remain at the same point. The system organized the silence.” In October 2021, “Four years after Waiting and deadlock,” laments chief mechanic Joanna, who was a protected employee, was fired for gross misconduct by Jennifer. The captain was first laid off for eight days in October 2020: “A ridiculous punishment that ruined me. “I stopped working for the first time and never came back to work,” the young woman explains. After turning down a position on the beach, the offending captain was also fired, in June 2021.
Currently unemployed Joanna, who did not have the strength to take the legal path, points to a huge mess: “My career development has been disrupted. She concludes that like many other women in the Merchant Navy, they will not be able to reach hierarchical positions. Unfortunately , we can see why.
* The name has been changed.